iPad 2 both excites and frustrates business customers

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from Network World.

Apple’s new iPad 2 tablet computer will only strengthen the company’s grip in one market that isn’t even a priority for it: the enterprise. And that leaves IT groups still struggling with how to manage and secure a wildly popular mobile device.

The rate of iPad adoption in companies is astounding. New data from Aberdeen Group surveys finds that 88 percent of enterprises in their sample either officially support the iPad or permit its use, with most of the remaining organizations saying they intend to support the Apple tablet. (Although those numbers don’t show the degree of iPad deployment or support.)

The iPad 2, unveiled on March 2, adds little in the way of enterprise-specific features. The 3G wireless option has been expanded to Verizon’s CDMA cellular data network for the first time, in addition to AT&T’s network. The powerful dual-core A5 processor improves overall app performance and dramatically boosts graphics performance. The new 4.3 version of iOS supports a faster Safari browser, with a new HTML rendering engine that executes JavaScript twice as fast as before.

The performance upgrades will likely be important in the months ahead to support deployment of traditional line-of-business applications, says Manoj Prasad, vice president of global applications and testing for Life Technologies. The Carlsbad, Calif., biotech tools company has deployed 600 iPads, and several thousand iPhones and BlackBerry smartphones, and Prasad has plans to get parts of the company’s Seybold CRM application to iPad users.

“We’ve so far had no performance challenges with iPad 1,” he says. “People are pretty happy with what they’re getting. [The new CPU] is a proactive move by Apple, as applications from Oracle, SAP, Seybold become available. Then, you will have a situation where you will need more CPU power.”

But Prasad is disappointed by what’s still missing from iPad 2: USB ports, Adobe Flash for video, and the inability to work with the Microsoft Office files and formats that are the lifeblood of so many companies.

“Managing Microsoft Office products is a big deal,” he says. “Being able to gain access to them, edit and share them is missing in the iPad right now, from our perspective. We’d love to replace our laptops with iPads but we can’t do that [without Office support]. That’s why we’ve not rolled it out to our 10,000 employees.”

Weighing the additions and omissions, many analysts say iPad 2 is at best an evolutionary improvement for the enterprise. “I don’t see any overwhelmingly compelling capabilities that would make people sitting on the tablet fence go out and have to buy one, despite some attractive apps,” says Jack Gold, principal of J.Gold Associates, a technology research and consulting firm. “I don’t see this as heads above the competition, especially the Motorola Xoom [tablet] right now. Apple didn’t really move the bar all that much.” (See “Tablet Tumble: iPad 2 vs. Motorola Xoom”.)

The new iOS release, Version 4.3, also adds nothing to the critical management and security APIs Apple finally introduced in 2010, Gold points out. That means that third-party applications from companies like Boxtone, Good Technology, MobileIron, Sybase (now part of SAP), TrustDigital/McAfee and Zenprise - which all make use of those APIs — remain essential for managing and securing the iPad. Life Technologies, for example, relies on MobileIron to manage the iOS devices, including software updates and patches.

For other analysts, the checklists of new or missing items miss the big picture. “The hardware changes ticked all the boxes for most consumers and industry watchers,” says Carolina Milanesi, research vice president for consumer technologies & markets at Gartner. “Hardware, however, is only one ingredient of Apple’s winning formula. Dedicated apps, the UI and the attention to detail that the new Smart Covers highlight [all] work together to deliver the ultimate experience.”

“Homerun,” sums up Aberdeen Senior Research Analyst Andrew Borg’s take on the iPad 2: “[At the announcement] Steve Jobs was showing consumer apps like iMovie and Garage Band,” he says. “But he’s really showing the power of software in terms of user experience design. No one understands that like Apple. And this will resonate with the enterprise, because UI design is critical to things like ease of use and productivity.”

But many enterprise customers remain frustrated because they can’t fully exploit those capabilities, says Ken Dulaney, a Gartner vice president who focuses on mobile and wireless. “The biggest issue for my customers is ongoing frustration with Apple as a consumer company. What they all wish is that Research in Motion [RIM] had the Apple user interface and a 10-inch tablet which would permit them to choose the device for the employees. But the users are balking at PlayBook and want iPads.

“[The iPad 2] does enough to keep all the [rival] tablets at bay and to support my contention that this market will look like the iPod market: a lot of sound MP3 players [from competitors] but everyone still wants an iPod,” Dulaney says. “It’s just that it’s going to continue to increase demand so that enterprises have to figure out how to support personally-owned devices inside the enterprise. And that’s a long story.”

[John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.]

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